Monday, April 10, 2006
Last year my favorite discovery was Scharffen Berger’s Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs. I think I might be in love all over again with the nibs from sweetriot. For those of you who haven’t been following along, cacao nibs are roasted cocoa beans that are ready to be made into chocolate. Everything that makes chocolate chocolate is inside the bean, the cocoa butter and what becomes cocoa powder. A plain cacao nib is rather sour, kind of grainy and has very little of the buttery crunch we associate with most nuts. It’s more like eating a coffee bean than a peanut. As a solo snack, they’re an acquired taste, but they make a great addition to salads or thrown into muffins or cookies.
Sweetriot sent me this fun little “spring fling” pack, which holds three different little upright tins of chocolate covered cacao nibs - each covered with a different blend of chocolate. 50% cocoa solids, 65% cocoa solids and the masterful 70% cocoa solids (with a hint of coffee).
The little tins are rather small, and to be honest when I first read about these on CandyAddict early this year I thought they were extremely expensive. At $6 each for a tin (regular price), it’s about five times the price of the Scharffen Berger nibs (which I already thought were pricey).
What is especially compelling is the mission of the company and that they’re fair trade (though not certified yet). They’re also Kosher, gluten-free and made with non-genetically modified soy lecithin (also called GMO-free).
What’s also different about these and the Scharffen Berger is that the coating on the nibs is quite a bit thicker. Where the Scharffen Berger nibs were bumpy and craggy, the Sweetriot “peaces” are smooth like little nuggets of tumbled chocolate.
I started with the Flavor 50, and I’m not sure you can make it out in the photo, but they’re more milk-chocolate looking than the rest. They’re actually very sweet and mellow and had a very clean taste to them, that seemed to have more vanilla coming through than most chocolate. Each little tin includes a “fortune” which has a piece of trivia about where the cacao comes from. In this tin it said: “Cacao Country Brazil shares boundaries with every South American country but Chile & Ecuador.”
Next was Flavor 65, which has a very strong acidity and bitterness to it, with notes of cherry and apricot but a very strong scent of rum and cedar shavings. Like a complex wine, these make you want to keep shoveling them into your mouth so you can try to pin down the notes. The trivia snippet here: “The first inhabitants of Cacao Country Peru were nomadic hunter-gatherers who lived in Peruvian caves.”
The last was Flavor 70, a deep rich experience whole. I was expecting them to be as bitter and astringent as Flavor 65, but they were actually more mellow, but equally dark and complex. The coffee note was not overwhelming and this tin was sweeter smelling. There’s a dry finish and the fruity notes blend together without an overpowering single flavor coming through. The chocolate is smooth and of course the nibs provide an interesting nutty crunch. The geography trivia here: “Together, Cacao Countries Ghana, Cote d’Ivorie, Nigeria and Cameroon produce 70% of the world’s cacao.”
By far the balance of chocolate to nibs is better in the Sweetriot over the Scharffen Berger nibs. The only thing I have trouble getting over here is the price. While I support Fair Trade, I also don’t care for overpackaging of items. Yes, they’re cute and the artwork on the tins is certainly original. The only option for purchase here is in the tiny tin, and maybe I just want to buy a pound of them and keep refilling my individual tin. But the company is young and I’m willing to be patient for more options on purchasing. For now they’re fantastic-tasting and hard to beat on that score, but they cost a pretty penny (and when I say penny, I mean that each little morsel is more than a penny!).
If you’re a true chocoholic, now might be the time to give these a try. They’re on sale through April 14th at 25% off on the website. They are sold at a limited number of brick-and-mortar locations, but check their website for the latest updates.
UPDATE: I found them in the wild! I saw them at a health food store in Greenwich Village - and the going price is only $4.99 ... much better than the expected $6.00 (based on their web price). If you think about how much you’re willing to spend for a latte or ice blended whatever (or hot chocolate), it’s really a comparable treat and of course it’s small enough to tuck in a pocket or your bag.
UPDATED UPDATE (12/28/2006): The prices on the website have come down quite a bit, buying a box of 12 means that tins are only $4 each now. The 3 pack flavor set also has a price reduction (the packaging varies by season).
Wednesday, April 5, 2006
Lifesavers are known for being highly-flavored hard candies. If there were a candy model that Jelly Belly might have gone off of, it was probably Lifesavers - here is a hard candy, a little smaller than usual, but super-flavored and in a huge variety. Lifesavers got into the gummi game a while ago and I tried them when they first came out, but didn’t think much of them. I decided to revisit them, especially since they changed the flavors out on the five flavor tray.
The 5 Flavor variety bears little resemblance to the hard candy rolls that have been around since 1934. The flavors in this roll are Cherry (an original flavor), Watermelon, Green Apple, Blackberry and Strawberry. No orange, no lemon, no pineapple. Drat! The candies are much larger than the hard version, they’re soft, if a little greasy on the outside to prevent sticking and are positioned upright on a clear plastic tray inside the wrapper.
The Cherry is just as you’d expect it, great woodsy cherry flavor with a good tart bite. I’m not fond of cherry flavored stuff, but I actually find Lifesavers rather acceptable, probably because the flavor doesn’t seem as artificial as many others. The Green Apple, the lighter of the two green flavors, is rather mild, not too sour but good overall flavor. Watermelon is a darker green and bears little resemblance to real watermelon flavor but has a nice tart bite to it without that overwhelming fragrance that many watermelon candies have. Strawberry was a bit disappointing. It was sweet and had only the slightest hint of a berry flavor to it. I’d tell you about the Blackberry, but this roll had none. I think they’re dark purple. I’ll hazard that it’s the same blackberry flavor in the Wild Berries below.
The Wild Berry mix held more promising flavor for my tastes: Cherry Berry, Strawberry, Red Raspberry, Black Raspberry, Blackberry and White Grape.
The colors are a little bland, but I guess when you’re making a dozen different flavors you’re going to run out of primary and secondary colors. The White Grape was my favorite. Soft and delicate, it’s just a bit tart and has none of that artificial grape note that I only seem to like in Tootsie Pops and SweeTarts. The Cherry Berry was remarkably similar to the Cherry in the 5 Flavor, but I’m not complaining. The Blackberry is the only one that seemed opaque, a lustrous dark purple it was tart and fragrant but hardly had a flavor different from the other berries. The Strawberry was the same as above. The rather lavender looking one was, I think, Black Raspberry. It was sweet and tart like the others and much more perfumed, as raspberries tend to be. The lightest red one was probably Red Raspberry and was similar to the Black Raspberry one, but perhaps a little tarter.
The good thing about this mix is that the flavors all blend together well, you can eat them one after another without the flavors fighting or combine them if you’re so inclined.
I like to eat gummies when my throat is bothering me, and I’m just getting over a cold (so if my tasting is a little off, it’s some sort of leftover malaise). They’re soothing and not too sour, so I don’t have to worry about burning my tongue like I often do on my overdoses of SweeTarts. I bought these in a Christmas Storybook on an after-holiday clearance for 98 cents ... so I certainly got my money’s worth for five packages of these.
While these flavors all have merit, I’d really like to have my favorite Lifesavers flavors - Lemon, Orange, Tangerine, Banana, Pina Colada and Pineapple. Actually, I’d be game if they wanted to try a Butter Rum gummi, too!
Tuesday, April 4, 2006
I’m not an energy drink person and I’m not one to start popping caffeine pills either. So what am I to do when I need a little pick-me-up?
A friend of ours who travels in Italy every year suggested Pocket Coffee! Basically it’s chocolate-covered Italian coffee. Because the sweet coffee center is concentrated, it only takes three chocolates to equal a single shot of espresso. Our friends like to get them for traveling as it’s more portable that hot coffee but has the same side effect. I’ve heard that it’s very popular with students, truck drivers and folks on night shifts.
Ferrero is a well-known Italian chocolate brand even here in the United States, with the elegant little Rochers and Nutella as their best-known products. In fact, I’ve never seen Pocket Coffee anywhere in the US before, but not for lack of trying. They’re not even made in the summer, so as a seasonal item it’s likely that getting one out of season means that it’s no longer fresh. But a no-so-fresh Pocket Coffee is just a different experience.
The candy is composed of a syrupy espresso center, then a light sugar crystal shell and then the chocolate. As the candies age the sugar shell will actually grow, taking sugar from the espresso syrup center to create a bigger shell. The ones I tried were a little old (purchased last fall) so they had the extra crystallized shell.
The coffee center is very sweet but smooth with a slightly acidic bite to it. The crystals provide a kind of funky crunch to it, but melt easily if you’re inclined that way. The chocolate is not too sweet and gives a good creamy boost to the whole mix. On the whole the candy is very sweet, a little too sweet for my tastes, but then again, it’s coffee candy. I’m not saying that I won’t eat it again ... though they are messy. If you’re driving, you’re obligated to pop the whole thing in your mouth but if you’re not, feel free to experiment with biting off a corner and sucking out the coffee first.
Finding them in the states may mean ordering online. They’re still being stocked at Capriflavors.com.
If only Cadbury Creme Eggs had a coffee version!
Monday, April 3, 2006
A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to participate in the tasteEverything Independent Food Awards, I was thrilled to see the other awards given. But the first one that I made an effort to get a hold of was the Sahagun Salted Caramels. Since I’m not going to get to Portland anytime soon, my husband mentioned it to friends there and they went right out and
bought me some (and some for themselves)!
I’m not quite sure what they all are, but I had to start with the caramels, which I knew were the tall ones with the nuts on top because the one in the back was actually broken in shipping. These are fantastic! The chocolate is smooth and mellow and the caramel filling is unlike most other caramels I’ve ever had. It was dark and complex, with quite a bit of salt in it and a gooey but not flowing texture. I hesitate to say that it was jelly-like or custard-like, but it definitely wasn’t quite caramel. The crunch of the hazelnut on top brings all the textures together.
The real find is that amorphous blob there on the right. I had no idea what it was going to be. It was a dark chocolate shell with a white chocolate coconut center. It’s hard to describe. Instead of the drab sweet center of a Mounds bar, this is a delicate and mild buttery base filled with soft and chewy coconut. I have never experienced coconut like this before.
The coffee truffle (not pictured) was shaped like a big button and dusted with cocoa and very smooth and soft a very strong coffee flavor. It wasn’t sweet at all, just like a cup of coffee without sugar would be. It was quite a refreshing change from many of the “too sweet” Easter candies I’ve been gorging on.
The other sphere there on the left, that’s dusted with a luster powder, is a plain chocolate truffle. Like the coffee one, it wasn’t sugary at all, except this one has a chocolate shell, which adds a touch of sweetness. The center is buttery and dense and quite satisfying.
The little medallions of chocolate we also dusted with that luster powder. I find it a little unappealing, like someone spilled their eyeshadow on my candy. But it doesn’t taste like anything that I can tell. (I know these edible lusters are quite trendy now, but it you haven’t already guess, I’m not really the trendy sort.) The coins were simply dark chocolate and it gave me an opportunity to experience the chocolate used in all of these creations on its own. It’s mellow and only slightly sweet with a dry, bitter bite towards the end, as plain eating chocolate is quite nice, but it really shines when used in combination with the other ingredients here.
The last item I didn’t even take a photo of, it was a what I thought was a nut bark. Oh, I should have known that it wasn’t going to be run of the mill. I have no idea what it’s called, but it’s dark chocolate with spicy corn nuts. The salty, extra crunchy and slight burn of the corn nuts went really well with the chocolate. It hardly felt like a sweet at all, but was entirely satisfying and possibly addictive. Of course it’s probably a good thing
From everything I’ve heard the best part about Sahagun is visiting the shop, so if you’re in Portland, OR, make a point of it. They’re at 10 N.W. 16th Ave. You can read more in this interview at Portland Food and Drink.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:53 am
Friday, March 24, 2006
In case you didn’t notice, All Easter Week kind of overlapped and is now two weeks. (I don’t hear any complaints!) Of course any discussion of Easter candy would be incomplete without Peeps which is why I saved them for last.
The thing is, there are lots of people who talk about Peeps and chances are you either love them or hate them already. Here’s what I think about Peeps: I think Peeps are pretty cute. The colors are great and the idea of a crusty crusted soft marshmallow is a good one. I think the name Peeps is pure genius. And the idea of a little yellow marshmallow candy shaped like a baby chicken is pretty good too. The manufacturing variations of them allows them to have their own personality. (According to the Peeps factory tour on their website their eyes are added by hand. It gives them a rather personal touch.)
But see, I don’t really like the taste of them that much. They’re sweet and all, and that’s good. And I know yesterday I said I liked plain old rock candy, so it seems odd that I wouldn’t like fluffy sugar.
If I do like Peeps, it’s when they’re stale. At least they have a little texture then. They’re tacky and lose their springiness and suddenly have a little tooth to them (well, Peeps can’t have teeth). Anyway, a slightly stale Peep is chewy and kind of a nice change of pace. A very stale Peep is almost like cookie. I’ve tried toasting them, but it’s tricky, because they catch fire quite easily. I guess the best thing to do with them is to do a mashup where you pull one apart and mash it into something else like crushed Oreos or chocolate chips.
There are several iterations of Peeps. There are different colors of the little chicks and little bunny shapes (which I don’t like as much for no good reasons I can verbalize). You can get white egg shaped ones for decorating and of course they’re not just for Easter anymore with other shapes/colors/flavors for all the major Candy Holidays.
Of course the thing I most like to do with Peeps is take photos of them (stay tuned for more of those, my new camera arrives today). There’s a whole Flickr group devoted to them, called Peep-Tastic. Then there’s Peeps Research, more Peep Research, a PeepShow, and of course the official site. For more literary expressions in Peeps, check out Lord of the Peeps, Peeps Haiku and then the definitive resource, the Wikipedia entry. Click here for some worksafe PeepPr0n and finally, for the last word on Peeps, check out this article from Salon’s archives.
I took my photos about two weeks ago and the Peeps have been in an open plastic baggie every since, I think they’re ready to eat.
So, do you love em’ or hate em’ and how do you eat ‘em?
Thursday, March 23, 2006
What’s truly baffling in the whole confectionery world is that most sweets are made from the same ingredients. Yet the processes applied to them and the combinations can yield vastly different results. The Bunny Basket Eggs reviewed last week are an excellent example of sugar done wrong.
Konpeito (or Kompeito) is just sugar, and done so well. These little rocks, about the size of a pea and simply rock sugar with a little food coloring. And when you compare iit to those awful marshmallow Easter eggs, it makes no sense.
If you ever saw Spirited Away, you may have seen this candy. They’re little multi-faceted sugar crystal lumps that look like three dimensional stars.
There’s not much else to say about them except that they’re sweet and cute. If you’re looking for a special little something exotic for an Easter basket, these might fit the bill, the packaging is pink and pretty and of course the little pastel morsels of sugar are, well, rock candy. And rock candy rocks. You can even pick up a package and use it when you serve tea or coffee as a cuter version of the old sugar cubes.
See also: CandyAddict.com review, JunkFoodBlog has more on the cultural significance and limited edition versions and Wikipedia has a full entry including the references to Kompeito in media.
Monday, March 20, 2006
I’ve never known what to call SweeTarts as a candy category. In the industry they’re simply called “sugar candy” as opposed to “chocolate candy.” I think the best description is “chalk candy”, or “compressed sugar” because that’s what they are. There’s no cooking involved. Maybe they’re “raw candy”. NECCO wafers and Smarties would be considered a chalk candy too and perhaps Altoids and lots of other kids of mints.
It doesn’t really matter how they’re made, what’s important is that this time of year they come in some special shapes. I usually pick up the egg shaped ones, but these looked even cuter. Upon opening up the bag the powerful waft of sour and sugar is quite apparent, as well as the “grape” flavor. The Chicks, Ducks and Bunnies are three different shapes (obviously) and come in Cherry, Lemon, Green Apple and Grape (no orange or blue punch here).
What’s especially cool is the sound a big bag of these makes. It sounds kind of like a bag of poker chips - they clank a bit. In fact, it might be fun to use them in the place of poker chips. If you drop one, it can shatter but very few in my bag were broken. What I liked about my particular bag was the lack of red ones, which I don’t care for and the high ratio of purple and yellow ones. I’m not usually fond of grape flavored things, but grape SweeTarts are just plain great. I don’t miss the old lime flavored green ones either, I think the newer green apple is far superior.
I’m a chomper. I don’t suck on hard candies and I certainly don’t suck on my SweeTarts. What do, though, sometimes, is dissolve them using the quick-saliva method (skip to the bottom if you get grossed out). You put the candy in your mouth and put it against your front teeth, bracing it with the tongue. Then suck really hard (keeping your lips closed), which pulls your saliva through the candy, softening it. Then a few quick bites and it dissolves in an incredibly satisfying manner.
Chocolate Obsession also reminds readers to “Make Mine Chocolate”, which is an education program to discourage people from giving live rabbits (and while they’re at it, I suppose ducklings and chicks) as Easter gifts. Of course you don’t have to make yours chocolate, you can make them SweeTarts!
UPDATE 3/9/2007: It appears that Nestle has discontinued these! You might want to contact them to voice your support for their return.
ANOTHER UPDATE 3/16/2007: I found them! They’re on sale at Walgreen’s this week - the 12 ounce bags are $1.50 each. Sooooo ... they’re not discontinued, just not an official product any longer ... oh, and the green ones are gone completely. Or my two bags were freaks.
AND ANOTHER UPDATE 2/22/2008: It seems that Nestle has mucked with the colors/flavors again this year have removed the yellow/lemon in favor of blue/tropical punch. They color assortment is now: Red/Cherry, Purple/Grape & Blue/Tropical Punch. So sad ... only ONE flavor I’m interested in now.
Friday, March 17, 2006
I’m a malt lover. You know that already. I know some folks don’t like malt, and that’s okay. I’ve got lots of other posts you can look at, so I won’t be offended if you skip to something else.
When I was a kid I loved the Easter malted milk eggs because of the pretty shells. What was especially cool about them is that you could lick them and then use the coloring and smear it on your lips. Back then it was cool to have chalky-looking white or pink lipstick ... maybe if you were lithe had a nice tan and long blonde hair. If you were more macho you’d paint stripes on your cheeks as warpaint (pretty pink and blue warpaint!).
In the comments here, Tripp and Samantha both expressed their affection for these Mighty Malts from Necco. So I sought them out. I found them at Dollar Tree ... which might not be a good place to buy candy, but I found everything else I’ve gotten there to be fresh and palatable.
What freaks me out about them is their texture. Not in my mouth, but just looking at them. They’re matte, but not in a chalky way like the cute little Cadbury Mini Eggs are. The pink ones look kind of like erasers. Actually, the whole pile of them looks like something you’d pry out of a sticky toddler’s hand. Anyway, I had some Robin’s Eggs laying around (I got them from a bulk bag from CandyFavorites when I visited last month).
The Mighty Malts (right) are much smaller than the Robin’s Eggs. The coating, instead of being a hard, crisp candy shell and then layer of “chocolate” is a “candy” coating which can only be described as a combination of trans fatty acids and sugar. Fake white chocolate. Colored to look like PlayDoh.
The outside is at once waxy and sweet. I can carefully shave off the coating with my teeth to create a new naked morsel of malt with practice. (I probably don’t look very appealing with the egg trapped between my lower lip and teeth though as I do this.)
The malt inside is pretty good - crunchy and substantial, it has a good malt hit and a bit of saltiness to it. But that’s not enough for me to recommend these except as a last resort. I paid a buck for four of these little boxes, so I don’t feel cheated or anything. I doubt I’m going to eat the other two boxes, though. I found the malt to be good enough that I’m going to keep my eye out for another Easter version called Goose Eggs, which boasts real milk chocolate (and of course they’re larger, which would imply a greater malt ratio).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.